We speak with middle school teachers, Debbie Holecko and Claudia Bestor, and their former student, Rafel Alshakergi, about a student-led research project that led to ethical civic engagement. Rafel explains how the experience emboldened her to ask questions and “speak [her] mind.” The project, which got national attention, cut against Ohio’s high-stakes test orientation; many teachers are afraid to do project-based learning because Ohio doesn’t have tenure and bases 40% of teacher evaluation on student test scores. The teachers discuss how to meet standards through project-based learning. This interview is just a joy to listen to!


00:00-00:42 Intro

00:42-02:23 Assignment

02:23-07:01 Projects

07:01-08:08 Student reactions to doing original research

08:08-13:47 “Colored graves” cemetery project

13:47-17:44 Project’s impact on students

17:44-19:50 Effect on understanding North Olmstead and its history

19:50-21:18 Students’ realization of their ability to make change

21:18-23:01 George Floyd’s death and BLM demonstrations

23:01-25:14 Relationships among teachers/students

25:14-27:47 Teachers and students learning together

27:47-29:35 Integrating language arts and social studies in practice

29:35-32:06 Meeting the ELA standards

32:06-36:04 Smooth and effective collaborative teaching 

36:04-42:12 Inquiry learning and Ohio’s test-driven system

42:12-43:45 Students’ identifying as readers

43:45-50:27 Dewey on schools’ role in preparing students for democratic citizenship

50:27-55:31 Professional networking: Facing History and Ourselves; Landmark workshops/seminars

55:31-55:49 Rafel as immigrant student

55:49-56:47 Outro


Click here to see the full transcription of this episode. 



Soundtrack by Podington Bear

Photo news5cleveland.com